Merry Christmas! It may be the holidays but hockey never stops. And it does not stop at All About the Jersey. Tomorrow starts the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships in Ostrava and Trenic, Czech Republic. It is the premier annual tournament for Under-20 year old hockey players. It will feature the best draftees from 2019, some of the top prospects for 2020, and many others competing for international glory. Five New Jersey Devils prospects will be involved in this year’s tournament; all the more reason to follow this year’s tourney.
The Official Title: The 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships
The Host Cities: Ostravar and Trinec, Czech Republic
The Dates: December 26, 2019 through January 5, 2020
The Teams: This is an international tournament for players under the age of 20.
Group A (Trinec): Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Kazakhstan
Group B (Ostrava): United States, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany
The Broadcasts: Canada: TSN and their many networks plus their TSN App and TSN Direct. Here is a full schedule.
United States: The NHL Network for most games and definitely all of the United States games. They typically use the TSN feed. Here is the schedule through NHL.com.
The Tournament Format: There are two groups of five teams each. Each group will play their games in the same city. They will play each other once from December 26 through December 31 - four games in six days. There are standings for this round of the tournament. Winning in regulation earns three points, winning in overtime or in a shootout earns two points, losing in overtime or in a shootout earns one point, and losing in regulation earns no points. The top four teams in each group in points will move on to the tournament itself. The bottom teams will head to a relegation series.
The bottom team in each group will play each other in a best-of-three series for relegation. The winner stays on for the 2021 World Junior Championships. The loser will move down to Division IA and will be replaced in next year’s tournament by Austria, who won the 2020 World Junior Division IA Championships earlier this month.
The tournament is a single game elimination playoff. The quarterfinals will be played on January 2. The seeding crosses each group for the quarterfinals. The top team in Group A will play the fourth-place team in Group B; the second-place team in Group A will play the third-place team in Group B; and so forth. The semifinals will be played on January 4. The losers on January 4 will play for the Bronze Medal on January 5. The winners will play for the Gold Medal on January 5. The semifinals, Bronze Medal, and Gold Medal games will take place in Ostrava.
The Five New Jersey Devils Prospects Involved This Year: There are two on Canada, one on Russia, one on Sweden, and one on Switzerland. Here they are in a nutshell in no particular order. Links in the names go to the their respective profiles at Elite Prospects.
Akira Schmid, Goalie, Switzerland - Schmid will return to the WJCs with the Swiss for a third straight tourney. He made no appearances in 2018. He received three appearances in last year’s tournament and, well, did not do so hot with a 87.8% save percentage. Luca Hollenstein was better and made more appearances with five. With Hollenstein also returning to the team, I would expect Schmid to be the #2 goalie. Short of Hollenstein playing poorly or getting hurt, Schmid’s time will be limited. At least he made the team again for the third and final time.
Daniil Misyul, Defenseman, Russia - Misyul has been with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL this season. Per Patrick Conway’s Russian Hockey Blog, the young defenseman has been limited to less than nine minutes per game. Yet, he remains on the KHL roster. He should at least play more on the U-20 team. Misyul made his international debut at the U-20 level this season and this will be his first WJC. Their defense will likely be led by Alexander Romanov, but it will be interesting to see how he is utilized.
Nikola Pasic, Left Winger, Sweden - Pasic may turn out to be the next late round gem for the New Jersey Devils. Not only has he acclimated well in the Allsvenskan with BIK Karlskoga, but he has been a regular with Sweden’s U-20 teams with two goals and three assists in ten U-20 games this season per Elite Prospects. As I understand it, Pasic will likely be a winger on the third line as Sweden is bringing some serious forward talent up front. But he should be involved as a regular and he could chip in something after opposing teams deal with Raymond, Holtz, Fagemo, and Soderstrom among others.
Kevin Bahl, Defenseman, Canada - The latest Devil on this list was a key piece in the recent Taylor Hall trade. Bahl is big. Bahl can throw big hits. Bahl is also a pretty good skater and he has been productive with the Ottawa 67’s. A season after he put up 34 points in 68 games, he has 20 in 28 already. Bahl could have a top-four role on Canada’s blueline, which is an achievement in of itself. Not only is making Team Canada a big accomplishment for any player, Bahl last represented Canada in the 2017-18 Hlinka tourney. He was not a regular. He could turn some heads. He will certainly not be easy to miss.
Ty Smith, Defenseman, Canada - Ty Smith had a chance to make New Jersey this season and he did not do enough in preseason. Instead of suffering with all of the Devils, he has been leading Spokane’s blueline and returning to his second WJC. He is definitely one of the “veterans” on a usually-strong Canadian roster and he should expected to be on their top pairing. Smith will be leaned on to play and perform in all situations.
Basically, if you’re a Devils fan, then you are likely pleased that Canada’s games will be aired as that team should have two Devils prospects playing a lot of minutes.
The 2020 Draft Eligible Players to Look For: Unfortunately, the New Jersey Devils are on track to picking high in the 2020 NHL Draft. While the WJC rosters are typically dominated by players who were just recently drafted, there are plenty of notable prospects for June 2020 who will play this year. According to Colin Cudmore - who writes at Silver Seven - there will be 31 draft eligible players set to participate this year, the most in the history of the tournament. Here are some names you may or may not know that you may want to check out during this year’s tourney. Again, links go to their respective profiles at Elite Prospects.
Alexis Lafrenière, Left Winger, Canada - Lafrenière has been doing it all in the QMJHL and racking up a ludicrous amount of points in the process. 70 points in 32 games is indeed ludicrous. Team Canada has respected the skill level; they brought him to the 2018 tourney. He is expected to play a big role for this year’s team. Between his dazzling speed, great passing, and intensity on the ice, but he could very well be a Taylor Hall replacement since he plays similarly to Hall. Like Hall, he is a favorite to be the #1 pick in 2020.
Quinton Byfield, Center/Winger, Canada - Byfield has been a monster in the OHL. So much so that he could seriously challenge for the #1 spot with a great performance in this year’s tournament. Byfield may be playing wing with Canada but he has almost everything you would ever want in a big, do-it-all center - including a lot of offensive skill. How good has he been so far? He was the unanimous choice as the OHL’s best prospect in Brock Otten’s preliminary scout/media poll.
Jamie Drysdale, Defenseman, Canada - Drysdale is the early favorite to be the highest ranked defenseman for the 2020 class. He is also the only under-18 defenseman on Canada’s roster. While Smith and Bowen Byram will get a lot of attention, do not be so shocked at what Drysdale can do in offensive situations. He has been contributing a lot with Erie in that regard and I think that is a big reason why Canada brought him in for this year instead of waiting until 2021.
Yaroslav Askarov, Goaltender, Russia - It is no secret that Devils fans have recognized that goaltending is a need. It is not secret that many in the scouting world bristle at the idea of a team selecting a goaltender with a high pick in the first round with few exceptions. Meet the exception. Askarov is 17 and he has been brilliant at every level he has played at so far. He made his KHL debut this season while crushing it at the VHL level. He was stunning at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup this Summer. Already he is being talked up as a potential top-five selection. A dominant performance at the WJCs may convince more people of it. The concern over drafting goalies is that it is a big miss if they do not hit. When they do hit, you could be set for a decade-plus in the net. Big risk, big reward, and Askarov may be worth it.
Lucas Raymond, Winger, Sweden - Raymond is a winger who can do a lot and do it well. As one of the two 2002-born Swedish players on the roster, Raymond could be one to watch to see how he stacks up against his peers. He has spent most of this season with Frölunda’s main team in the SHL, albeit with limited minutes (10:13 ATOI), so he has been playing above his level against men. Raymond may be more of a force going forward at the U-20 level and opposing defenses will need to be prepared for his quickness with and without the puck.
Alexander Holtz, Winger, Sweden - Holtz is the other 2002-born Swedish player on the roster. He is known for his strong shot and how he scores plenty of goals with them. His size is about average but he brings the compete, grit, moxie, tenaciousness, and whatever else you want to call it. As with Raymond, most of his time has been in the SHL for Djurgårdens but with a higher ATOI and more production (13:21 ATOI, 5 goals, 35 shots). Look for Holtz to play a significant role with Sweden’s forwards, especially on their power play.
Tim Stützle, Forward, Germany - Stützle is on track to join Moritz Seider (who will be on this year’s team) and Leon Draisaitl as being a recent German top-ten pick in the NHL Draft. Stützle is a regular for Adler Mannheim of the DEL. While the German league is not on the level of the other European leagues, this is a 17-year old averaging over 16 minutes per game and is currently tied for fifth on the team with 23 points (5 goals and 18 assists) in 25 games. He is a big part of the current surge in German youth players and why Germany has become a bigger force at the international level in hockey. Keep a close eye on him; you may miss him if you do not.
For a more complete list of 2020-draft eligible players, including some non-first rounders, I highly recommend this post by Steve Kournianos at The Sporting News. I also recommend Ben Kerr’s recent scouting reports at Last Word on Hockey, which features these players and more (link goes to his top 5, keep on clicking for the others).
Of note, Anton Lundell would also be one to watch but he will not appear for Finland due to an injury.
I Want a 2021 Draft Eligible Prospect to Watch: There is one of note: Finland’s Aatu Räty. The forward and brother of Aku just turned 17 last month and he has already made his Liiga debut with 12 games already with Kärpät.
My Be Strong, Be Wrong Predictions by Someone Who Isn’t Really That Knowledgeable About International Hockey Much Less the World Junior Tourney:
Poor Germany. They have a growing roster of talent which could have at least four of their players drafted this year. Their team features two first rounders in Seider and Dominik Bokk. And they are in the tougher of the two groups. They pale in comparison to Canada, Russia, and the United States. The other remaining team is the host country, Czech Republic. While not as great as in past decades, they have plenty of draftable talent and will seek to at least show up well for the home crowds. If only Germany was in Group A. At least all of the games in that group should be exciting and meaningful. That Germany-Czech game could decide their relegation team - who will probably mop the floor with the last place Group B team.
Group A is the easier group on paper. Kazakhstan is a safe bet to be their relegation team. Sweden and Finland just have to not fall on their faces and they will go through. Switzerland and Slovakia should have a fair path to get in provided they do not suffer an upset of their own. Of course, the bigger concern will be where they are positioned. Winning Group B would be a huge result if only for avoiding Canada, the United States, and Russia in the first round of the medal tournament. Whoever finishes second may be kicking themselves for not doing better with a potential first round matchup against one of those three teams.
Here’s my not-so-well-informed predictions.
Group A: Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia, Kazakhstan
Group B: United States, Russia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany
In a short tournament, goaltending is critical. Spencer Knight and Askarov are arguably the two best goalies in the entire tourney. Canada’s one weakness on paper is in net. So while their games against Russia and the U.S. will be close and well-played, I think the goaltending difference gives them the edge. And with the United States returning most of their 2019 team except for Jack Hughes, they have the incentive to push for gold this year.
As for the other group, the defending champs Finland has suffered some injuries that has weakened their forwards. It is another hit to a team that is younger and will not have Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to bail them out with great goaltending. 2020 prospect Anton Lundell is out and Patrick Puistola is dealing with issues as well. Throw in the fact that they will not have Kotkaniemi or Kakko and I think they fall short of matching Sweden. I do think they will finish second - good luck with that first round game with Canada.
Relegation Round: Germany over Kazakhstan. Germany returns in 2021 and Austria will replace Kazakhstan.
Germany just has more talent. Do not blow it, Germany and you could have a better run of things in 2021. That stated, could you pull off a win in Group B? Sure. Do I expect it? No, since this tournament is in the Czech Republic.
Quarterfinals: United States over Slovakia, Russia over Switzerland, Canada over Finland, Sweden over Czech Republic
Those fretting about a third-place finish for Canada in Group B will be allayed if/when they face off with a Finnish team that is not likely on the level of last year’s squad. The U.S. and Russia should win their quarter final matchups and Sweden will take out the hosts.
Semifinals: United States over Canada, Russia over Sweden
Again, in a short tournament, the goalies are crucial and the U.S. and Russia have the best ones. They can also attack well enough to give their goalies enough goal support. While Canada and Sweden may have better bluelines, the edge will be in the creases.
Third-Place Game: Canada over Sweden
Canada probably would not be so pleased with a bronze, but it’s better than fourth.
Finals: United States over Russia
The U.S. gets the gold they sought after in 2019 and caps off a U-20 team featuring one of the best groups of players the USNTDP has ever seen. 2021 may be a drop off but better to have a gold than a silver (again) to do so.
Lastly, please take this all with a grain of salt. I am likely to be wrong about all of this but this is how I, a total outsider to this tournament, see how things shake out for 2020. As ever, feel free to disagree in the comments.
Are There Other Previews? Absolutely.
Dobber Prospects have multiple team-specific podcasts about the WJCs. Steve Kournianos is the guest for the United States; Jokke Nevalainen is the guest for Finland; Viktor Fomich is the guest for Russia; Jimmy Hamrin is the guest for Sweden; and Steven Ellis is the guest for Canada. For a written preview, Tony Ferrari has a bold preview for this year’s WJCs. Such as predicting the tournament hosts to be relegated and Kazakhstan avoiding it. That’s the level of boldness in his post. Ferrari also has this list of potential X-Factors, featuring several of those 2020 prospects you should be paying attention to should you follow the WJCs.
Steve Kournianos did not just preview the 2020 draft eligible prospects for the WJCs. He also wrote this team-by-team preview at The Sporting News.
Eyes on the Prize, the Montreal SBN site, has their World Juniors section going. They do more in-depth previews team-by-team. They have previews already up for Sweden by Patrik Bexall, Switzerland by Justin Blades, Finland by Jared Book, Kazakhstan by Anton Rasegard, and Germany by Justin Blades. Check out their section for even more as it gets written.
Also on the SBN network, the 24th(?) Lauren Kelly has a full preview of the WJC tourney country-by-country at Raw Charge.
There is plenty of previews and posts about the WJCs up at The Hockey Writers. They already have looks at the rosters of each nation plus a few team-specific posts.
If you have a subscription to The Athletic, then Corey Pronman’s guide to the 2020 WJCs is here so check that out ($).
Your Take: The 2020 World Junior Championships start tomorrow; there will be an open discussion post for it up tomorrow morning too. Are you excited for it? Who do you think will medal? Who do you expect to standout? Who among the five Devils prospects will have the best performance? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 2020 WJCs in the comments. Thank you for reading.